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BBC – Future – Nasa mission that broadcasts a billion people

It was 21 December 1968, 7.50am, Cape Kennedy, Florida. The Apollo 8 crew – Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders – are outlined in their couches, about 110 meters (363ft) above the ground at the top of the first manned Saturn 5 rocket – the most powerful machine built. While finishing the last seconds to launch there is little to say and a little more they can do. Some four million liters of gasoline will soon fire under them. These, as BBC TV commentators watch helps to put it, "sitting in the equivalent of a huge bomb".

There are all reasons to worry about. In the previous unmanned trials of Saturn 5, several months ago, severe vibrations and g-forces shortly after launch were likely to kill anyone on the board. Even though the rocket has changed, Borman's wife is warned of Nasa that his wife has about a 50/50 chance to survive the mission.

The performance of Saturn 5 rocket is not just concern management Nasa. Apollo 8 is a mission of firsts ̵

1; a giant leap forward in the race to get someone to the Moon. This will be the first manned spacecraft to leave the Earth's orbit, the first in the Moon's orbit and the first to return to Earth at a staggering of 40,000km / h (25,000mph). The mission is a calculated gambling space agency to beat the Soviet Union to our nearest neighbor.

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"This is a very, very hard decision," said Teasel Muir-Harmony, Apollo Curator at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. "Every person within the agency knows that it is an extraordinarily dangerous mission and lots of critiques, most notable by British astronomer Sir Bernard Lovell, of the United States putting people's lives at risk."

In fact, Apollo 8 has never intended to be ambitious. It was originally planned as the first test of the Apollo lander on Earth orbit, but the production of the lander runs ultimately. More than that, the CIA warns that intelligence has suggested that Soviets strive to try their own flight around the Moon (you can read how close they are.)

"Every person & # 39 It's forgotten that the Apollo program is not a voyage of exploration or scientific discovery, it's a Cold War battle, "Borman says," and we are Cold War fighters. "

Despite the lack of his bosses, and after only four months of intensive training, Borman, a former military fighter pilot, says he has no doubt that the mission will succeed.

"We are obliged to change the mission to carry out the month before the end of the decade, which President Kennedy promised, "Borman says." I think the mission is very important not only to the United States but to free people everywhere. "[19] 659002] With engines lit and countdown to zero, Saturn 5 gradually rises from the pad and accelerates the clear blue sky of Florida. "I want to be at the point of a needle," Borman says. "The noise gave the impression of enormous strength – I felt the feeling of riding a ride, instead of controlling anything."

We looked and there was a Moon – Frank Borman

"It got very difficult to breathe, it's almost impossible to switch and your eyes are sideways to get you the tunnel's vision," he recalls, "an unusual feeling . "

After eight minutes, they are in orbit. After one and a half of the orbit, they burned the third stage of the rocket engine and destroyed the Earth to the Moon. Then, two days and 402,000 kilometers (250,000 miles) later, at 8.55 GMT on Christmas Eve, Borman plays a very important burning engine in the Apollo service module that will place spacecraft into orbit around the Moon.

"I think we fired the engine just like four minutes to slow enough to get into the orbit of the month," recalled Borman. "I have three quarters of the way through that and we looked down and there was the Moon."

The crew is the first person to see the far side of the Moon in their own eyes. "I do not think anything I like to study has prepared me for the real upheaval of the moon's surface – it has been damaged by more than faith," Borman says. "It's deeply troubled by holes, craters, volcanic ash, so it's a very interesting first look at another world."

And not just the scene of the Moon that got them a surprise. Some 75 hours and 48 minutes on the mission, Anders spots the Earth's blue marble rising above the lunar horizon and scrambles for the color of the movie to capture the moment.

"The difference between the anxious Moon and the beautiful Blue Earth is remarkable, Earth is the only thing in the whole Universe with any color," says Borman. "You can see the white clouds, the brownish pink continent … it's very hard to live on this planet."

A mission thought of as a dangerous test of human technological intelligence and astronaut's bravery has changed into an unexpected emotional experience for those involved. The image of Earthrise will not be published until Apollo 8 returns to Earth but for Christmas 1968 the crew has another gift for the planet.

"Prior to the flight, Borman's public affairs official said they expected a billion people – a quarter of the world's population – to tune their Christmas Eve TV broadcast from orbit of the month," Muir-Harmony says. "More people will hear their broadcast than any other human voice in history and just tell him to say something appropriate."

Three of us and our husbands tried to figure it out – we could not do it – Frank Borman [19659012] "It was one of the most remarkable moments of a free country," Borman says. "You may think that if the Soviets were high enough, we would say about Lenin and Stalin and we were only told to do something appropriate."

But "something worthwhile" has proven far short. "The three of us and our husbands tried to figure it out," Borman says. "We can not do it."

He returned to a friend, asking a veteran war correspondent Joe Layton. "As I understood it, he was sitting all night stabbing the sticky paper while his wife walked, and her husband was a former warrior of French resistance, suggesting why you did not start at the beginning?"

In launching the TV cameras, and as the spacecraft approaches the rising of the moon on Christmas Eve (US time), the crew reading begins from the Book of Genesis. "In the beginning …" Anders started. Borman ended the broadcast with "good night, good luck, a happy Christmas and God bless you all, all of you in good land."

"We are quite convinced that this is the most appropriate thing to do because there is a feeling on my part, at least, that the Universe is greater than all of us," Borman says. "It's too well and a huge one does not have a kind of divine creation."

But the mission is far from over. On Christmas Day Borman fire the engine again to leave the orbit of the moon. "Burning Earth's orbital incineration takes place on the far side of the Moon, outside the hold of the ground – if it fails, I still want to look at the Moon."

"Please, have Santa Claus!" Excellims Lovell as re-establishing contact with the land. And yet Santa was delivered. Covered with specially designed fire-proof festive ribbons, crew creatures present from the control of the mission: a turkey dinner with gravy.

"[Our boss] Deke Slayton had also smuggled three brandy shots on the board but we did not take it," Borman said. "I do not want it to blame for anything wrong, so we brought it home."

It extends the limits of human experience, it affects the way we value the Earth and our place in the Universe – Teasel Muir -Harmony

"I do not know what happened to me," he added. . "It's probably worth a lot of money today."

On December 27, the crew returned to Earth – falling near their target in the Pacific Ocean that ship transfers should move. This is the perfect end to a perfect mission, the ultimate proof that gambling that flies to the Moon will pay.

"Apollo 8 is not only a great scientific and engineering accomplishment," Muir-Harmony says, "the boundaries of human experience, it affects how we value the Earth and our place in Universe. "

For Colonel Borman, in 90 still a heavy Cold War warrior, the great success of his last mission was to get America steps near the Moon.

"I'm honest with you, I'm not really thinking about the heritage of Apollo 8," she told me. "After the successful Apollo 11 [in landing men on the Moon] I had no interest in the program. I joined to help fight the Cold War battle and we won."

To hear more from Frank Borman, Apollo 8 and astronauts who talk about Genesis and their own religious experiences, listen to Richard's Radio 3 broadcast program on December 22: Message from the Month

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